For the first time since 1996, Canada are within touching distance of reaching the final round of World Cup qualifying. And on Thursday, head coach coach Stephen Hart named the 21-man roster that will play in the two crucial games to determine whether Les Rouges get back to the CONCACAF Hexagonal.
Canada haven’t even come close to making it back to the Hex in the previous three World Cup attempts, and so sitting on seven points through four games with just a game at home against Cuba and away to Honduras remaining, it’s their best chance in a long time to get back there.
While it could all come down to the game on Oct. 16 in San Pedro Sula against Honduras, Hart knows there’s still work to do against Cuba, already eliminated and still looking for their first point of the round.
“My discussions with the squad right after the Panama game were about Cuba and will continue to be that,” Hart told reporters in a Thursday conference call to announce the roster.
The squad is largely unchanged from September’s group of players that beat Panama 1-0 in Toronto before faltering to a 2-0 loss in Panama just four days later. Out is D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario as he is still recovering from a knee injury. He’s been replaced by Iain Hume while veteran defender Mike Klukowski replaces Toronto FC’s Ashtone Morgan.
Even without De Rosario, Canada’s all-time record goal scorer, Canada are the favorite in the game at BMO Field on Oct. 12. But for a team that’s only scored twice in four games, they can’t take anything for granted and it would be a good time to get a few goals as that would make the trip to Central America much easier.
“It’s a very dangerous thing to play a game before it arrives,” said Hart.
And while it’s unfamiliar territory for even the most veteran of the Canadian squad – no member of the team has come this close to making it to the final round of World Cup qualifying – Hart is counting on them to lead the way.
“It was the veteran players that obviously were the most disappointed in the last game,” he said, “but they also know the reality of the situation we are presently in. They know that so they’re going to everything to galvanize the squad and do what is necessary. And what is necessary is the first game against Cuba and then we can worry about anything after that.”
Goalkeepers (3): Lars Hirshfeld (Vålerenga/Norway), Milan Borjan (Sivasspor/Turkey), Kenny Stamatopoulos (AIK/Sweden)
Defenders (7): Ante Jazic (Chivas USA), Kevin McKenna (FC Köln/Germany), Andre Hainault (Houston Dynamo), Marcel de Jong (FC Augsburg/Germany), Dejan Jakovic (D.C. United), David Edgar (Burnley/England), Mike Klukowski (APOEL/Cyprus)
Midfielders (7): Nik Ledgerwood (Hammarby/Sweden), Julian de Guzman (FC Dallas), Terry Dunfield (Toronto FC), Will Johnson (Real Salt Lake), Atiba Hutchinson (PSV Eindhoven/Netherlands), Pedro Pacheco (CD Santa Clara/Portugal), Patrice Bernier (Montreal Impact)
Forwards (4): Tosaint Ricketts (Vålerenga/Norway), Simeon Jackson (Norwich City FC/England), Olivier Occean (Eintracht Frankfurt/Germany), Iain Hume (Doncaster Rovers/England)